Saturday, August 27, 2011

online weather maps: a critique

I like maps - I used to have a big collection of paper maps before everything had a GPS, and I still have a few paper ones because they're just more satisfying to use than little bitty iPhone screens.

I have also always been fascinated by weather - it always seemed to me the closest you could get to predicting the future. And until I cancelled my cable TV service three years ago I was a regular watcher of The Weather Channel. I find watching weather reports soothing - usually. Until they start talking about tornadoes and other scary weather. But even when it's scary it's fascinating.

So it goes without saying that I am fascinated by online weather maps, especially when there is a massive hurricane approaching New York City as is currently the case.

But I haven't found the perfect Hurricane Irene map yet.

The weather map at the NYTimes is almost perfect - it's everything a hurricane map should be - clear, enlarge-able, easy-to-read. But dammit, they only update it every six hours - I have to know more frequently than that where that sucker is and where it's heading.

So I turn to the weather maps at the good ole Weather Channel web site. They have lots of maps - you got your "Classic Doppler", your Infrared Satellite, your Visible Satellite, your Winds and Gusts and lots more. And they are updated about 15 - 30 minutes or so. And yet... none of their many maps in the regular section or "Hurricane Central" have that slick trajectory that the NYTimes map has.

The government agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through its National Hurricane Center does have trajectory maps - but they only have two sizes, small and big, and even at the big size is hard to read, and just plain ugly. They do have the quaint Mariners' 1-2-3 rule map but its graphics are incredibly primitive.

Last we have the Weather Underground map selection. Any coolness points this web site gets for being named after a notorious radical left-wing organization is destroyed by the massive number of ads all over the site. And no trajectory maps. However they get big points for Dr. Jeff Master's Wunderblog which actually has a piece of information I haven't seen anywhere else - that as of 1:32 PM Friday, Hurricane Irene "continues to weaken." This is the kind of stuff I like to know about impending weather fronts of doom:
. Satellite imagery shows a distinctly lopsided appearance to Irene's cloud pattern, with not much heavy thunderstorm activity on the southwest side. This is due to moderate southwesterly wind shear of 10 - 20 knots. This shear is disrupting Irene's circulation and has cut off upper-level outflow along the south side of the hurricane. No eye is visible in satellite loops, but the storm's size is certainly impressive.
So in summation - there is no one perfect web site of weather information, especially approaching hurricane information. You have to look at them all.